“Feminism Lite”, or: The Fallacy of Consumerist Feminism

The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathise with.

Natalie Portman, on feminism.

Natalie Portman on the cover of ELLE. (Source)

Natalie Portman on the cover of ELLE. (Source)

So this quote has been posted before to this blog, and basically Natalie Portman sums up an argument which we’ve discussed in class — that inversion traps us in the original structure of thought we would undo, and that this holds true whether it’s switching male/female models in a car ad or switching who holds the guns and who’s kicking ass. It’s still a reification of violence as strength as subjectivity.

But that this quote appeared in a promotional article for ELLE magazine raises a question for me: why throw in a quote on “feminism” in the middle of talking about love, movies, and Tom Hiddleston? Is this a sign that the times are a-changin’, and feminism is sooooo in? Or is it a fetishization of feminism through a media star in order to sell magazines — in essence, a consumerist feminism?

In this case, I think, the form literally in-forms the content:

  1. The ELLE cover in which this interview — and quote — appears features Portman fully clothed, waist up, but showing a glimpse of thigh. This sells potential magazine-buyers on the level of visual eroticism.
  2. The first quote in promotional article is Portman on love. This sells on the level of normatively-socialized romance.
  3. The second quote is the one on feminism in Hollywood. This sells us on feminism, conscientiousness, all that good social justice-y stuff we like.
  4. The third quote is on “Dirty Dancing”. This sells potential buyers on their love of movies and/or “Nobody puts baby in the corner.”
  5. The last quote is a light-hearted quip on punching Tom Hiddleston. This sells us on humor and, well, Tom Hiddleston.

So what’s happening here? It seems the magazine has economically-normatized feminism into palatable, consumerist terms. ELLE  embeds a message of feminism in (literally the middle of!) this normative context about romance pop culture, romance, and Tom Hiddleston — and thereby sanitizes and devalues a serious theoretical articulation of and objection to Hollywood “feminism.” Now it’s just bullet point #2 in a list of safe, unthreatening “girl” stuff.

There’s a double force at play here: consumerist trends informing feminism, and feminism becoming a consumerist trend. The feminist quote gets included because, well, it’s something women today think about, right? (The routine interpellation of woman-as-feminist and only-woman-as-feminist is whole ‘nother can of theoretical worms.) The Portman quote, then, is designed to penetrate that particular market demographic. Feminism has become chic. Feminism is just another thing that women do — like lipstick or cooking or babies. In the context of this article, Portman’s quote is bled of its theoretical weight. It’s Feminism Lite™.

You can sell Feminism Lite. And if you can sell it, it will reach a lot of people because yay mass market! That sounds good at first, but I think we have to take seriously the question: what does it mean for an anti-oppression theory (e.g. feminism) to be subjugated to capitalist market forces which are inherently oppressive?

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One thought on ““Feminism Lite”, or: The Fallacy of Consumerist Feminism

  1. Pingback: Feminism 2.0 _ Can’t Tell Me What to Do | colesayswhat

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